Skullcandy has traditionally prized fashion over function with its headphones, but with the Aviator range of cans, the company is hoping to prove its mettle as a manufacturer of high-quality audio devices. We put a pair through its paces to see if they live up to their sizeable price tag.
The Aviator range is a collaborative effort between Skullcandy and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. With the decline of record sales, musicians are increasingly looking to grow their revenues by lending their names to audio hardware, seen by many as the last of the music industry’s untapped frontiers.
Skullcandy pioneered the trend with its Snoop Dogg-endorsed Skullcrushers three years ago, though the most successful of these “collaborations” is Dr Dre’s Beats range of audiophile-friendly headphones that offer excellent performance, albeit for a hefty price. Beats have become the de facto headphones for hip-hop heads the world over, arguably as much because of their perceived coolness and easy recognisable design as their quality output.
Priced at around R2 000, a pair of Aviators is certainly cheaper than a pair of high-end Beats, but remains in the price range of offerings from the likes of Sennheiser, meaning they really have to offer excellent sound quality if they are to encourage audiophiles to buy them instead of competitors’ offerings.
Thankfully, the Aviators do sound good. However, they don’t handle bass as well as some of their competitors, which might pose a problem for hip-hop and dance music fans, but is less of a problem if they’re primarily going to be used for folk, rock, pop and light electronic music.
For the casual user looking for good-looking cans with above-average performance, the Aviators are ideal. But serious audiophiles will find the high-end wanting in the detail department, and the low-end lacking clout. That is perhaps the biggest problem with the Aviators – they’re a little too expensive given the wealth of options in the same price range.
Another potential problem with the Aviators is their lack of ambient noise cancellation.
Nevertheless, there’s much to like about them. Aside from their good looks, they include some handy additions. Firstly, the nylon-clad cord is less liable to tangling than the conventional rubberised variety, although at only 1,3m it’s no good for watching TV from across the room. Secondly, Skullcandy has realised that many people now use headphones to listen to music on a cellular phone, and made appropriate design decisions accordingly.
About 15cm beneath the left ear cup Skullcandy has included an in-line remote control with volume controls and a centre button that can be used to play or pause music with a single click, skip forward a track with a double-click, and skip back a track with a triple-click. Moreover, it can also be used to answer and end calls as the remote also includes a microphone.
Like most Skullcandy over-the-ear headphones, the Aviators are very comfortable, whether they’re over your ears or slung around your neck. Clearly, much of the cost of making each pair has gone the styling with their suede-lined headband, faux leather ear cups, stainless steel and aluminum detailing and braided nylon-encased “anti-tangle” cord complete with a gold-plated 3,5mm plug.
The name of this particular range stems from the egg-shaped ear cups that Skullcandy says were inspired by the iconic glasses of the same name. The Aviators are certainly some of the most discreetly styled headphones we’ve seen from Skullcandy — thankfully, they’re devoid of the garish colours and oversized logos that normally adorn the brand’s products.
Another area in which Skullcandy shines is packaging. Each pair of Aviators comes in a transparent, tube-like container with a matching soft-lined leather travel case and microfibre cleaning cloth for removing fingerprints from the high-gloss bodywork.
As a first serious foray into the world of high-end audio, Skullcandy have done admirably in terms of design and features. But they haven’t quite got the technical specifications in line with the selling price. We’d love to find a pair under the Christmas tree from a well-meaning wealthy relative, but we’re not so sure we’d go for them if we actually had to foot the bill ourselves. — Craig Wilson, TechCentral